Captaincy For All

Shivnarine Chanderpaul – world class batsman, dedicated cricketer, terrible captain. The last thing the West Indies needs right now is another good cricketer and substandard captain. In the wake of internal divisions relating to contract disputes and general poor form, the woes of the West Indies have been compounded under the weak leadership of Chanderpaul and with the new year, the widespread call for change grows ever stronger.

Glancing a year back, the reasons seem clear cut as to why Chanderpaul was granted the captaincy in the first place. Contract squabbles eliminated several major players from contention for the first Test match against South Africa in 2005. Among those big names was one Brian Charles Lara, the incumbent captain, as well as former vice-captain Ramnaresh Sarwan. Citing no better option among the available players, Chanderpaul was installed to the role.

It does seem as though the WICB was scheming over the prospect of the move for some time before. The previous series, Sarwan had been stripped of the vice-captaincy for no apparent reason other than his hesitance to side with the WICB and Digicel in the contract disputes. Granted, where money meets sport, this seems understandable. Though Lara shared the same views as Sarwan, he was allowed immunity, perhaps on the basis of being a “bloody legend” of the game. Chanderpaul was the man who reaped the reward, and the Board named him as Lara’s deputy for the 2005 VB Series with Australia and Pakistan.

At the time that he was elevated to the captaincy, claims were that it was a necessary move due to the unavailability of Lara. Fair enough one would think, if not for the revelations of a closer look. Opening the batting in Chanderpaul’s first Test as captain was Wavell Hinds, a man who is now being tipped strongly to replace Chanderpaul and who has been considered a prospective leader for some time now. This suggests that there were indeed other options to be considered.

Although Hinds had led his home team Jamaica just six times before that Test, he did so with a batting average of 44.63 and strong enough leadership to win three of six games while drawing two others. Chanderpaul had captained a First Class side on seventeen occasions to the date. His team won six of those matches, drawing ten. That his team lost just once in that stretch seemed to be a clear enough indication that Chanderpaul was and is a fit leader.

Perhaps there should have been more than a casual glance at his achievements and credentials. Perhaps more effort and thought is required in choosing a captain. If Chanderpaul was as meek and indecisive outside of Test cricket as his leadership has been shown to be at Test level, it is hard to fathom how he could have been the logical choice to captain a struggling team. Surely the signs were there. Surely there was some indication of the lack of an ability to inspire and unite. Maybe not. Chanderpaul may just have pulled a substantial piece of fabric over the eyes of the selectors.

Regardless of his abilities to lead a cricket side, the nature of last year’s contract disputes means that Chanderpaul is clearly not the person to handle that role for the West Indies team at this time. The players are now forced to serve under a captain who not only disagreed with their stance in the dispute, but was rewarded healthily for doing so. It is not a clever observation to see how that detracts from team unity. He started as captain with a second string team due a divided player pool. The pool has merged once more, but the divisions are surely still fresh. Especially given Chanderpaul’s lack of assertive and commanding qualities, he does not appear capable of handling such a crisis.

Now the questions pour in. Is Wavell any better? Lara for a third term? Is it Sarwan’s time? Daren? Indeed, calls have ranged from the re-instalment of Brian Lara to the selection of Daren Ganga purely on captaincy credentials. Several young cricketers have been earmarked for future leadership. The problem lies in the fact that most young West Indies cricketers cannot yet command a spot in the first XI, let alone get around to leading it.

Ryan Hinds and Daren Ganga may show strong potential in the role of captaincy, but neither has done enough at Test level to prove that such considerations should relate to international cricket. Yes, the likes of Mike Brearley and more recently (and controversially) Sourav Ganguly have held spots in their countries first team purely on the basis of captaincy (and politics), but it is doubtful whether the West Indies can afford such a leader.

The only candidate other than Chanderpaul, who is a sure selection is Lara. I am of the opinion that where he is concerned at this stage in his career, the best move is to just say “no”. Lara has served West Indies cricket magnificently over the years, but rarely has that been measured in success at the helm. In his two previous stints there were highs – drawn series with Australia in ’99, Champions Trophy victory in ’04 – but the lows were so much more common and devastating. He now has less than two years left in international cricket according to the predictions of several cricket gurus. This is no time for a 36 year-old to be leading West Indies cricket.

Lara’s countryman, Dwayne Bravo wanders briefly into the picture, but when considered as the best bowler and one of the most promising batsmen in the regional side, all at the tender age of 22, it does not seem wise to give him another burden to carry for the team.

Ramnaresh Sarwan has age on his side married with considerable experience of international cricket, but still reeks of the immature characteristics that have plagued him since his rookie days. Sarwan continues to perish to the ill-advised hook stroke and to loose wafts outside the offstump. These are weaknesses in his game as a batsman, but also reflect a lack of control and inability to fully understand a game time situation. Sarwan has also never led Guyana and his only experience as captain has been in tour matches with the West Indies senior team. There are signs of strong leadership in Sarwan’s vice-captaincy and with his reappointment to the deputy position last year, it seems as though the WICB has once again named him the successor to West Indies cricket. Whether the public is to now trust the competence of the Board in selecting a leader is irrelevant to the matter.

We swing rather dramatically back to Wavell. Hinds was recently revealed as the pick of leading sports writer Tony Cozier, and if that doesn’t count for anything, what really does? A calm, collected individual in the field and a jack of all trades, Hinds would appear the perfect foil for an exciting and careless team. However, his sometimes seeming lack of temperament at the crease and always seeming lack of technique count against him.

With talents such as Narsingh Deonarine and Runako Morton waiting on the sidelines, Wavell Hinds is by no means a sure pick for the West Indies. Therein lies the pickle. Does the worth of Hinds the captain outweigh the worth of Hinds the player?

On this subject I feel the need to throw another name into the hat – Denesh Ramdin. He is only 20 years-old with a literal handful of Tests to his name, but Ramdin has shown signs that he has what it takes to be successful in international cricket. Much in the mold of the former captain of Zimbabwe, Tatenda Taibu, Ramdin is a brave never-say-die character and an outstanding gloveman. A half century on Test debut and another against the might of Australia prove his competence with the bat.

Leadership has always come naturally to Ramdin, and he led Trinidad and Tobago and the West Indies Under-19 teams with great success. Is he ready now to graduate to the feasting table? So many questions. Is Ramdin prepared to match wits with the Inzamams, Pontings and Vaughans of this world?

Some doubted that Graeme Smith was when he was made captain of South Africa at 22. There are still those who doubt his capability, but there is no masking that he has led his country with a good measure of success. He had only played 8 Tests before the promotion and has now played 43. South Africa has won 37% of Test matches under him, losing 11 times in 35 matches. In the shorter form, Smith most notably led South Africa through a stunning 20-game winning streak, second only to Australia in the record books.

Ramdin may be the spark this West Indies team needs to start turning things around. Ignoring the obvious downfalls at grassroots levels, what the region needs now is strong leadership. Chanderpaul is not the answer. Lara has been tried and has failed. It is not my place to forcefully suggest the name of the man who must lead the West Indies through this dark period, and though I was never one to stay in place, I will now temper my opinion. Instead I leave these few facts delivered with a healthy dose of opinion. Make of it what you will.

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